At a time when the entire world is outraged to find out about USA’s secret mass surveillance program run by the NSA, the Indian government is openly and unabashedly contracting a foreign private company to design and implement a mass surveillance program to spy on its own 1.2 billion citizenry. According to a recent news report, 1Verint Systems, an Israeli cyber intelligence solutions provider closely linked to Israeli intelligence services, is soon to get a contract from the Indian government to aid and abet the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in intercepting encrypted electronic communications in India.
Kapil Sibal, Minister for Communication and Information Technology, recently met with Verint’s leadership team in Israel and Verint executives assured the minister that they had a keen desire to “work with the government to intercept all forms of encrypted communications.”2
The Indian government has identified 15 forms of encrypted communications that it claims it cannot track and intercept; these include Google’s Gmail, RIM’s BlackBerry services, Nokia’s email offerings, Yahoo.mail and Microsoft Skype. And through Verint's spying technology, the technological base of which comes from Israeli military operations against the Palestinians and others, the DoT hopes to overcome its limitations on its spying capabilities.
By outsourcing electronic surveillance to foreign private companies, the Indian government is putting us all at grave security risk. Foreign entities with no allegiance to India will presumably have access to sensitive private information on everybody living in India. Nor does Verint’s track record instill much trust and confidence. Jacob “Kobi” Alexander, the former Israeli intelligence officer who founded Verint, fled the US to Israel in 2006 just before he and other top executives of a subsidiary were indicted for fraud that allegedly cost US taxpayers and company shareholders $138 million. Alexander eventually adopted a fake identity and hid in the southern African country of Namibia where he is now fighting extradition.3
Also, Israel’s spy agencies have long had a revolving-door relationship with Verint and Narus and other Israeli military-security firms. The relationship is particularly close between the firms and Israel’s own version of the NSA, called “Unit 8200.” After the 11 September attacks, Israeli companies seeking a share of massively expanded US intelligence budgets formed similarly incestuous relationships with some in the American intelligence establishment: Ken Minihan, a former director of the NSA, served on Verint’s “security committee”, and the former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) official responsible for liaison with the telecom industry became head of the Verint unit that sold eavesdropping equipment to the FBI and NSA.4
So not only are we sharing our nation’s private information with foreign firms but also indirectly with Israeli intelligence agencies and American intelligence agencies.
The greatest irony is that all this is being done in the name of national security.